Voluntary truck replacement programs at ports are a common means of improving local air quality without imposing strict restrictions. However, new research shows that these voluntary programs, while a critical component of a comprehensive clean air plan for ports, are limited in their overall effectiveness, especially when considered in the context of mandatory programs. A new peer-reviewed study by Environmental Defense Fund, “Emissions reduction analysis of voluntary clean truck programs at U.S. ports”, will be published in the July issue of Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. The study, authored by Elena Craft, PhD and me, demonstrates that voluntary programs only reduce emissions by one to four percent compared to a baseline of truck emissions before program implementation. Furthermore, the potential emission reductions are limited to 15 percent for particulate matter (PM) and 35 percent for nitrous oxides (NOx), two pollutants linked to serious health risks. This means that, under current program guidelines, only a fraction of total truck emissions could be reduced through voluntary replacements. These findings are striking given the accomplishments noted at ports that have implemented more rigorous programs, such as the Port of Los Angeles Clean Truck Program, which set a progressive ban on older, more polluting trucks, ultimately requiring the use of clean trucks that meet the 2007 emissions standards.
This is a critical environmental and public health issue. Short-haul drayage trucks have been found to contribute substantially to port area air pollution, and there is broad consensus from communities, cargo owners, transportation providers, and ports that older trucks need to be retrofitted or retired in order to reduce the public health risk from emissions associated with freight transportation.
In 2009, EDF announced a partnership with the Houston-Galveston Area Council and the Port of Houston to replace older, polluting trucks with new, cleaner models. The outcome of this partnership resulted in the best incentive program in the country for owner-operator truck drivers. The Drayage Loan Program combined federal and state grants to provide drivers with low-interest loans and high value grants to trade in their truck. While voluntary programs, such as the one at the Port of Houston, have helped build stakeholder support and drive progress toward cleaner air, the limited capability of voluntary programs, as demonstrated by this study, highlights the need for stronger actions on behalf of all partners. This is especially true for Houston, as emissions from trucks operating at the port are estimated to amount to approximately half of all emissions within the port’s 2015 projected emissions inventory. Read More